Feature Article - June 2018
by Do-While Jones

Science Insanity

A computer model could show erosion carved Mount Rushmore.

It is a known scientific fact that wind and rain cause rocks to erode. Mount Rushmore is made out of rock. Therefore, Mount Rushmore must be eroding. Scientists can measure the erosion rate—and they might have. Even if they haven’t, they can estimate the erosion rate based on measurements of erosion of similar rocks.

Knowing (or guessing) how fast Mount Rushmore is eroding, and making some assumptions about how Mount Rushmore used to look, one could program a computer to show how Mount Rushmore eroded from its original shape to its current shape, which just happens to look like the faces of four United States presidents. Not only that—the computer simulation could show exactly how long the erosion process must have taken based on actual measurements of current erosion measurements and accepted assumptions. Sadly, nobody has.

Of course, that’s silly. But is it really any sillier than the computer simulations showing how the continents have moved over millions of years?

1

This last month I’ve been amazed at all the ridiculous speculation in the supermarket science tabloids about ghost species, the formation of stars and planets, characteristics and composition of planets orbiting stars many light-years away from us, and past levels of oxygen in the atmospheres of Earth and Mars (and their temperatures) over the past hundreds of millions of years, based on nothing more than computer simulations.

Yes, I believe Armstrong, Collins, and Aldrin really did fly Apollo 11 to the Moon and back. I’m not a kook who doesn’t believe in space travel. Despite my belief in space travel, I don’t believe Han Solo shortened the 20 parsec Kessel run to less than 12 parsecs, 2 despite the fact that graphics showing how Solo shortened the distance (by taking the Millennium Falcon through the Akkadese Maelstrom) are much better quality than the TV pictures I watched when Apollo 11 went to the Moon.

I know the difference between science and science fiction—but I am beginning to think I am in the minority! So much of what is passed off as “science” in the supermarket science tabloids is so ridiculous that it goes beyond the realm of science fiction straight into the land of science insanity. I blame the theories of evolution.

Perhaps I should not put all the blame on the theories of evolution. Today, popular culture encourages acceptance of nonsense as reality. In the 1950’s, Captain Video always wore a helmet when he stepped out of his space ship on another planet. Now the only ones who wear helmets are Imperial Storm Troopers (because it is part of their cheap plastic armor which clearly provides absolutely no protection from blasters, and merely impedes their motion).

Belief in evolution has made it acceptable to think that what “could” have happened, actually did happen, even if the preponderance of scientific evidence is that it could not have happened. When you teach children that birds evolved from dinosaurs, it is no wonder they will believe anything!

The Insanity Stack

Here are a few excerpts from some incredible “science” stories from the past few weeks. There could have been more, but I threw some really stupid stories straight into the wastebasket (because they were too foolish to merit attention) before I thought of writing this article.

Even though most of the stories in my insanity stack have nothing to do with evolution, they all show how the wildest speculation is confused with real science.

So, with that introduction, let’s start with this quote from an article in Discover dealing with quasars:

The unexplained emissions, according to Wang and Loeb, may stem from a more subtle feature of every quasar: their milder but steadier outflows. What a black hole doesn’t eat, or shoot away in jets, it flings off at relatively moderate speeds — a few thousand miles per second, or about 1 percent the speed of light. After interacting with the local gas, these outflows can ultimately produce small amounts of all three components of the high-energy background: gamma rays, neutrinos and cosmic rays. 3

In other words, measurements of radiation from quasars didn't match expectations, so they have guessed again.

Remember, black holes originally got their name because they are supposedly so massive that their gravity is so strong that not even light can escape from them, making them appear black. Now, black holes “fling off at relatively moderate speeds” all kinds of radiation.

Moving on, quantum physics is always good for a laugh. Consider this excerpt from Scientific American:

Their experiment, which the researchers say could be carried out within a few months, should enable scientists to sneak a glance at where an object—in this case a particle of light, called a photon—actually resides when it is placed in a superposition. And the researchers predict the answer will be even stranger and more shocking than “two places at once.” 4

The author of that article in Scientific American told us about a quantum physics experiment that hasn’t even been done yet—but he expects will produce shocking unexpected results.

“Science” has evolved to the point where experiments don’t even have to be done. All you have to do is think about performing an experiment in the future, and you can draw conclusions from what you think the outcome of that experiment should be. And you can be sure, the outcome will be “even stranger and more shocking” than what was previously believed because what you used to believe was wrong.

Turning to the realm of particle physics, we are told:

Such a particle, if it exists, would transform the foundations of particle physics and could help solve cosmic puzzles like the existence of dark matter, an unidentified inert substance that makes up the preponderance of the matter in the universe. 5

Let that sink in. This particle, which may not even exist, explains dark matter, an inert substance. “Inert” means it doesn’t interact with anything. Since it doesn’t interact with anything, it can’t be detected. It doesn’t interact with light so you can’t see it. It doesn’t interact gravitationally with anything else, so you can’t weigh it. But they say it could solve cosmic puzzles if it turns out to make up the preponderance of all the matter in the universe! We wonder, if it is inert (and therefore does not interact with anything) how can dark matter affect anything in any way?

Did you ever wonder what happens when two neutron stars collide? Fess up! We know you have! You thought they formed a more massive dead star, didn’t you? You were wrong!

If the pair of neutron stars united to form an even more massive dead star, then researchers would expect that mega-neutron star to be surrounded by a bright shell of high-energy particles — similar to the Crab Nebula, but much brighter (SN Online: 6/13/08). X-rays coming from the site of the crash were far too faint to match this explanation, leading the team to conclude that the collision birthed a black hole instead. 6

Could it be that the reason why astronomers are always surprised that their observations fail to match their expectations is that their Big Bang model is completely wrong?

They “concluded” that a collision between a pair of neutron stars “birthed” a black hole. That is pure speculation—not science.

Give ‘em a Hand!

Turning to evolution, you might be shocked to learn that part of our evolutionary story isn’t what was once believed! Actually, you should not be shocked because you have heard that in nearly every story about evolution you have ever read in the professional literature—not just in the supermarket science tabloids. That’s because the theory of evolution is just a story, not a scientific discovery of physical laws. Physical laws don’t change—but stories do.

Fossils reveal that right-handedness goes much further back in our evolutionary story than once believed. Recent research has shown that handedness and language do not, er, go hand in hand, at least in the way we once thought. And in 2017, neuroscientists suggested that the origin of handedness is not even in the brain. 7

Since this silly story is related to evolution, let’s look at it more closely.

The fossil record of hominins — humans, our ancestors and closest evolutionary kin going back to the split from other primates about 7 million years ago — is mostly fragmentary, making it impossible to determine handedness by studying limb bones.

In the 1980s, researchers analyzed stone tools, trying to gauge hand dominance from the direction the material was flaked, or chipped. While initially promising, the idea proved unreliable.

Then, Frayer began to look at striations on Neanderthal teeth. These furrows appeared only on the outer faces of mostly the upper teeth, at the front of the mouth. One direction of diagonal marks, either from upper right to lower left or upper left to lower right, would dominate.

Individuals working with tough, fibrous material, Frayer reasoned, could have held it between their teeth and one hand, then used an edged stone tool to saw off a small piece with the other hand. Every now and then, the tool edge would hit (ouch) the outer face of the upper teeth. 8

It is true is that the fossil record of hominins is fragmentary. Not only is that a convenient excuse for why there is no proof of human evolution, the less evidence there is, the easier it is to make up a story.

According to the story, anthropologists used to think that they could figure out how arrowheads and other sharp stone tools were made. This would tell them if the maker used his right or left hand. Frayer (and perhaps others) thinks that the analysis of those anthropologists was unreliable. We suspect those anthropologists (and perhaps others) would disagree with Frayer. So, it all comes down to a question of, “Who do you believe?” Without knowing who got his PhD from the better university, you can’t know who is right!

Modern Science is Anti-science

We are sometimes accused of being “anti-science” because we reject the theory of evolution, and therefore must reject all science. That, of course, is nonsense.

After teaching science for two years at a major Midwestern university (admittedly better known for its football team than science department) I spent 33 1/3 years (for the record) using science to protect the citizens of a well-known, free world nation. I know when “BS” stands for Bachelor of Science, and when it stands for something else.

Is there anything less scientific than Scientific American reporting the results of a quantum physics experiment that hasn’t been done yet, but will certainly produce results “even stranger and more shocking than two places at once?” Maybe there is. Just read this month’s Evolution in the News column (New Scientists Believe in Ghosts) to learn New Scientist reported the discovery of a ghost ape and decide for yourself.

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Footnotes:

1 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pangaea
2 https://www.forbes.com/sites/jvchamary/2018/05/30/solo-star-wars-story-kessel-run-12-parsecs/#35f4c9493785
3 Steve Nadis, Discover, June 2018, “As the Mighty Quasars Flow”, http://discovermagazine.com/2018/jun/as-the-mighty-quasars-flow
4 Philip Ball, Scientific American, 21 May 2018, “Quantum Physics May Be Even Spookier Than You Think”, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/quantum-physics-may-be-even-spookier-than-you-think/
5 Emily Conover, Science News, 1 June 2018, “Mysterious neutrino surplus hints at the existence of new particles”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/mysterious-neutrino-surplus-hints-existence-new-particles?tgt=nr
6 Maria Temming, Science News, 1 June 2018, “A neutron star crash may have spawned a black hole”, https://www.sciencenews.org/article/neutron-star-crash-may-have-spawned-black-hole?tgt=nr
7 Gemma Tarlach, Discover, June 2018, “Was Science Wrong About Being Right?”, http://discovermagazine.com/2018/jun/was-science-wrong-about-being-right
8 ibid.